Car Detailing 2 – Waxing

Automotive Detailing

Part 2: Polishing and Waxing

There is a common misconception among the unwashed masses that waxes and polishes can be used interchangeably.  Since this is nothing less than blasphemy among detailing aficionados, we thought we’d help set the record straight.

POLISHES.   Often referred to as cleaners, polishes are designed to remove contaminants and oxidation, restore the paint/metal to a rich, light-reflecting luster, cover swirl marks/scratches, and prepare the paint for wax. For the most part, polishes contain abrasives and “clean” by friction.  There are three types of friction polishes: hand glazes, clays and rubbing compounds.  It is almost always best to start with the least aggressive means first and begin with a fine abrasive (glaze or clay), instead of a coarse abrasive (rubbing compound).  Furthermore, do not confuse metal polishes with paint or plastic polishes or try substituting one for another.

Auto Detailing

WAXES.  Wax is designed to sacrifice itself and protect your paint from suicidal flying insects, acid rain, salt, tree secretions, UV rays, X-rays, stingrays, and a myriad of other demonic substances.  Most waxes are either organic or polymer-based. Polymer waxes, often referred to as “sealants,” are chemically manufactured and often contain silicone or Teflon. They tend to be more reflective than organic waxes and can last up to six months. However, sealants need a clean surface in order to bond to the paint, which usually requires an additional step prior to application; i.e., claying the paint surface.

The most common organic waxes are from tropical plants (caranuba) or from bee’s wax. Organic wax differs from a sealant because it sits on the top of the paint instead of bonding to it. While it provides a deeper, “wet” shine, it isn’t as durable as polymer wax and usually lasts 4-6 weeks. Our experience has been that a quality paste wax containing carnauba offers a superior protective finish and is applied and removed with less effort than products containing bee’s wax. And contrary to doctrine, you do not have to wait until the wax is completely dry before removing it.

Auto Detailing Drying

CLEANER WAXES.  We think it is counterintuitive to expect one product to perform two completely different functions.  Products that claim to clean and polish, while SIMULTANEOUSLY applying a protective coat of wax, are best suited for a lawnmower, not your family hauler.

Generally speaking, we recommend polishing a car only about once a year, and always apply a coat of wax immediately after polishing it. Most, if not all, major wax manufacturers also make polishes. But how often you wax your vehicle depends on how often it’s used. If your SUV is garaged and driven 3,000-miles a year, and only on nice days, you might need to wax it once a year. If it’s a daily commuter, then 2-4 times or more a year might not be more reasonable. (Tip: Die-hard detailers apply paste wax with their fingertips. This method minimizes the potential for accidentally rubbing a piece of sand or grit into the paint and scratching it.  Many professionals, on the other hand, use an orbital buffer, not to be confused with a circular buffer, to apply and remove wax to because it saves them time.)

We also highly recommend applying and removing polishes/waxes in the direction the wind flows over the bodywork, NOT in a circular motion.  Simply stated, scratches and swirl marks are more visible when they are perpendicular to the lines of the vehicle and your eye. This is especially important if your prize possession is a dark color where imperfections are more apparent. Also, applying a thick coat of wax or sealant does not give you better protection – it only makes it harder to remove the product.

Using Pledge ™ or any other household products to shine automobiles is not a good idea. The chemicals in some household products might not be compatible with the chemicals in the paint.  So why risk it?  Furthermore, household products do not protect paint against UV, bird poop, salt, etc.